6 Ways to Survive a Wedding As a Photographer (When You’re Not the Photographer)

6 Ways to Survive a Wedding As a Photographer (When You’re Not the Photographer)

Recently I had the distinct honor of being a groomsman in a close friend’s wedding. It’s a lot of hurry and stand while remembering where to look. The pressure really is more on the two people getting married to remember their lines: “I do.” But as part of the wedding party, you also get the full brunt of posing, smiling and cheesing it up for the wedding photographer.

It is a personal rule of mine to never photograph a friend’s wedding professionally. I’ve turned down a few opportunities simply because if I am going to be at a friend’s wedding, I want to celebrate and honor them, not be working. But, it is sometimes hard to keep your photographer opinions to yourself as you watch another wedding photographer do their job.

So here are six steps to making it through a wedding when you’re not the photographer.

1. Let it go.

The first step to any program, 12 steps or otherwise, is admittance. You’re not the photographer of this wedding. Accept it and move on. You are there to celebrate the union of two people…and maybe take advantage of the open bar.

Let the photographer do their job. You might have opinions on their style. You might even feel they are not doing a good job. But it’s not your place to check up. If the couple getting married have any sense, they probably vetted their photographer and labored over their choice. Trust me, they are more concerned with the photographer than you should ever be.

2. Remember why you are there.

You and your plus one are there to celebrate! Someone in your family, a friend, or a co-worker is getting married. That’s a big deal and they feel you are special enough in their lives to celebrate with them. So clap, cry, cheer, dance and drink, and remember that your role in their wedding day is to love and support them.

3. Leave your camera at home.

Do this for a few reasons. The first is ‘YIPPY you don’t have to work at a wedding!’ You get to actually enjoy it. So keep the work gear at home and bring along the iPhone for selfies and maybe a point-and-shoot if you’re so inclined. Don’t however act as the backup photographer. Stay in your seat and don’t interrupt or bounce around the ceremony. You will be a distraction.

The other reason is the second people know you have decent skills at photography, they will never stop asking you to take pictures of them at the reception. You don’t want to be the backup photographer but you soon will become one when you have 8 smartphones in your hand with a group of friends trying to get just the right shots to post on Instagram. This is a good time to just blend in.

4. Don’t tell the photographer you’re a photographer.

They don’t care. It might lead to some awkward small talk, but they are working. They don’t care that you also are a wedding photographer or a hobbyist. They might want to chat later and share contact info, but in the middle of their workday, they are focused on the wedding and making sure they get the shots. Leave the networking until after the wedding is over.

5. Do as they say, not as they do.

If you are in the wedding, just do what they say. Smile and pose and follow their direction. Don’t improvise or do what you think would make a good pose for a photograph. You might not agree with the photographer or you might have done something differently, and that’s ok. But you’re not there to critique their work. Hopefully they are a fantastic photographer like we had and none of this is an issue.

6. Smile.

If you forget everything else above, just remember to smile. If you happen to be caught on the other side of a wedding photographer’s lens, a nice looking smile will make for some lovely pictures, and maybe a new profile picture.

What other tips would you give photographer attending weddings? What are some of your experiences being on the other side of the lens?

Photos used with permission from Salt and Pine Photography.

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15 Comments

Jason Vinson's picture

could have used this last weekend.....

mark millar's picture

I feel that there is a story in there somewhere, just waiting to come out!

Casey Berner's picture

I had to live it before I could write about it.

I was recently in a buddies wedding and I had to completely turn off the photo/video side of my brain.

Keith Walters's picture

Agreed. When I had my wedding I asked everyone in my family not to mention to our photographers that I am in the business. I didn't want them to have to think about anything else other than doing their job, and that's exactly what they did. My wife and I vetted their work, so I knew what we were going to get -- it helped me turn off the photo side of my brain and really enjoy the day :) We got great photos!

Nick Viton's picture

I took this approach to a wedding once, leaving all my gear at home. However, at the reception, the photographers only stayed for a bit and missed an entire evening's worth of photo opportunities. I'm absolutely certain my friends would have appreciated pictures of the evening's events. I swore I'd never leave my gear at home for a wedding again.
Also, there seems to be a perception that if someone is shooting then they cannot possibly be enjoying the moment. Perhaps I'm different, but I have the capacity to photograph a moment and enjoy it at the same time.

Kyle Ford's picture

YES!!! I'm always like I don't know what to do with my hands... so I'll just double fist beers..

John Skinner's picture

As someone the averaged about 40 weddings a year from 1970-1982, this was VERY hard to (as the pieces says) let go.

Time after time I'd attend a service and just cringe and wince seeing the obvious upcoming disaster the couple was going to get from some of these "wedding photographers". But I have learned to let it go. Biggest factor? I'm in my 50's now and no body I know is getting married at this age.

Otherwise I'd still be shaking my head at some table midway in the fray of it.

My best friend wants me to shoot her wedding as my wedding gift to her. I told her the best role for me is to drive the getaway car (this is the 4th wedding she has planned in 4 years, it's a legit possibility) but definitely not to shoot her wedding since I'm not a wedding photographer.

I'd tell other photographers to just have a drink and celebrate like everyone else. You have no idea what was discussed and agreed upon between the couple and the photographer. It's their agreement, and just like money it's none of my business unless specifically asked. It's good to keep your gear handy in case of an emergency that maybe the photographer isn't prepared for, but breaking out the big guns just seals the deal that everyone will start handing you the camera phones and you won't be in ANY of the pictures. For 6 years I was the person the phones were handed to and it looks like I attended zero social functions.

If she's been married 4 times in 4 years, she must be a real pro at weddings.

She has backed out of 3 weddings in 4 years LOL. She does in fact have an amazing Pinterest page, a wedding plan for every season! :)

Aaron Bratkovics's picture

I like bringing the camera but I'm completely out of the way. It is more leisure for me. It is kind of relaxing actually lol. I also don't like stepping on any feet.

John Bayler's picture

When my step son got married several years ago I declined to photograph his wedding. While the wedding was going on I was seeing shots that the photographer should of been getting and wasn't. After, doing the family shots she took way too long. We should of been done in less than 30 minutes, she took almost an hour. I might add it was an outside wedding in June and very hot. I did shoot pictures at the reception as I know she would leave and miss some good funny shoots. When my step daughter asked me to shoot her's last weekend I said yes. I got the shoots, family pictures done in less than 30 minutes and everybody loves them.

All good advice. This all looks so easy on paper..

I 2nd shoot weddings. I don't enjoy when Uncle Bill comes over and asks why his photos are blurry but I absolutely love when people come chat with me during the day. I was even at a semi out of town wedding about an hour out of town and I'd never been there before. A friend of the couple started chatting with me about photography and gave me a couple of locations to try which was helpful as the couple didn't really give much direction on what they wanted.